Was that maybe the best episode of the season? I feel like it might have been.
While everybody presses flesh at the Shamrock Dinner we were heading to last week, Alicia gets a visit from the cops: It seems one of her clients has been murdered, and there's reason to believe the killer is on the loose. While everybody gets into place for the episode, Alicia spends the first act remembering the guy -- John Noble, who I guess talks like Michael Caine sometimes, here as a paranoid crank -- in a brightly rendered and emotional, funny way reminiscent of the beginning of Up.
(Which I realize is a big statement to make, but an hour later, when you realize he was probably killed for one of the lamer nuisance lawsuits he came up with -- and she remembers that he blatantly told her he was only suing everybody on earth because he liked hanging out with her, which she blew off because everybody is in love with her all the time -- it's an altogether more valid comparison. You don't cast John Noble unless you're about to commit some form of emotional terrorism.)
The cops tell her that the perp's car's GPS was set to go to her place next, so Alicia gets her mother Veronica to take the kids elsewhere. She gets as far as the bar across the street, and then tells them all kinds of horrible true shit (Alicia was knocked up with Zach when they got married; Grace was unplanned) while getting faced for St. Patrick's Day. She's much more human and less of a plot device than last time, which is hilarious because she is still a total cartoon trainwreck of a woman, but it's worth it just to see the kids affectionately/hatefully deal with her particularly un-Jackie form of crazy.
Laura Hellinger shows up at the (gorgeous) precinct to hang out with Alicia and work the SA's side of things, so we get to see how Alicia and Hellinger are doing these days, which is great... Up until Laura admits she's been flirting with Will Gardner, and asks for Alicia's advice. John Noble's relationship with Alicia twines elegantly with the historical Will Affair, which means she's in a sexy reverie for much of the time, but once Will shows up and Alicia firmly and directly breaks his heart for him, things settle into a new shape with Laura. I can't remember the last time I felt sorry for old Will Gardner, but damn was it hard to watch him fall apart like that. Here's hoping Alicia can stay out of it like she wants to, because Laura is fun and smart and Will deserves like one second of non-misery in his whole stupid life.
Speaking of interesting couples, Kalinda drops everything to come to Alicia's aid, scaring Cary with the seriousness of the situation once they realize a corrupt cop might be involved, and he grabs at her hand at one point in a darling way, but still who knows what's going on with them. Kalinda figures out that the cops lied about the danger to Alicia, allowing her to head back to the party and solving the case for 'em in like three seconds.
Back at the party, Alicia has a great moment with Eli where he giggles filling her in on current events: After Mike Kresteva intimated to a tone-setting Cardinal that Zach had a drug history, Peter one-upped him by punching him in the face, then leading everyone to imagine he'd fallen off the wagon. (This after Alicia and Eli have both taken memorable shots at him earlier in the night, including an acid encounter in which Alicia not only compares him to Hitler, but suggests that he "die choking on his own blood.")
Did I mention Cary Agos in a tux? Anyway, in the end the Cardinal seemed to take both men equally seriously as candidates, which Eli calls a win -- and more importantly, the death of Judge Ludwig last week leads Peter to offer Diane a seat on the Illinois Supreme Court, which would involve leaving L/G -- and Will -- behind, should Peter win. (And while it's hard to think about Will having to go on without Diane, frankly I'm more focused on hoping Diane's run for the bench goes a little less soul-crushingly this time.)
So you've got Will being deserted by his two ladies in fundamental, life-changing ways, and then Laura Hellinger riding in wearing the other team's colors, which is by itself a really interesting and complex dynamic. You've got Alicia declaring her love for and commitment to Peter in front of everybody, from her kids to her boyfriend to even her insane mother, and calling Kalinda for BFF-type help for the first time in years. You've got Kresteva on the defensive, which we didn't even know he had one of those, and Peter impressing everybody with his sudden awesomeness. Pretty much the only person who didn't have a life-changing event at this party is Cary Agos, which presumably leaves him more time to take advantage of everybody else's personal upheavals.
For an episode that took less than three hours realtime, and stayed contained in basically three locations, it sure did cover a lot of ground. Not only factually, of course, but also the emotional highs and lows. John Noble's heartbreaker crush, Will's absolute misery, Alicia's intense focus on actually making decisions and forcing consequences for once -- while somehow retaining both her compassion and her not giving a fuck thing she's been working on all year -- added up to a story that expanded itself in time, unfolding and unpacking moments with a giddy sense of its own history. It would've been a technical marvel for any show, but coming in this string of good-to-great episodes, after a season full of narrative uncertainty, it's as reassuring as it was satisfying.
Next Week: Has there ever been a Colin Sweeney episode that didn't rank among the best of the series? I predict this excellence streak will continue, when he returns. What do you suppose he's gonna think of the New Alicia? I could see it going both ways. Mostly I just want to hear what comes out of her mouth when he tries to blow her mind with how freaky he is, because you know this year's girl isn't having it.
A bunch of things were going on! But it didn't matter, because everybody had to get all dressed up and go to the Shamrock Dinner -- quite the shindig, judging by Alicia's gorgeous red dress -- even though there is such drama: Peter just became the DNC's guber, invited both L & G in order to stir up a bunch of shit, Eli Gold finally got ridda my dear sweet Jordan Karahalios, Kalinda got burned for choosing L/G over her own troubling life, and Cary Agos is steadily imploding on himself like an adorable dying star.
Peter: "Whoa, you look amazing."
Alicia: "Lol. You also look amazing."
Eli, suddenly: "One might even say Presidential, if one wanted to buy me a summer home on the Moon one of these days."
Alicia: "Eli, you look so great in a tux..."
Eli: "Are you making fun of me?"
Alicia: "...Only insofar as a Beanie Baby in a tux would be super cute."
Eli: "Are you going to get all drunk and atheist on me again?"
Alicia: "One of those two. The fun is deciding which."
Eli: "You're on board for the mission tonight, right?"
Alicia: "To have fun!"
Eli: "Oh no, girl. It is to manipulate the affections of Cardinal James, who is played by Holling Vincoeur from Northern Exposure. At the end of the night, he will shake one candidate's hand and hug the other. Guess which guy we want to be?"
Alicia: "The guy who doesn't kiss the ass of anybody involved in a child sex ring?"
Eli: "He's a perfectly nice man!"
Alicia: "May well be, but it's like the Boy Scouts thing. If you don't want to be associated with a group, don't associate with that group. Pretty simple shit, Eli."
Eli: "Does not compute. Catholics vote."
Peter: "So I won't talk about abortion. Like I usually do."
Alicia: "You're pretty awesome this episode."
Peter: "I know, it's weird!"
Eli: "I know you hate the St. Alicia thing, but you need to work that tonight. In an awkward segue -- especially notable for the unparalleled quality of this episode overall -- I will now pivot to how that is all about your wifely faithfulness, a thing it only became about like three episodes ago..."
Will: "-- So I can suddenly appear! Making Eli's eyebrows crawl up his head and down the back of it."